Atomic Layer Deposition for Materials-Based H2 Storage: Opportunities and Limitations

Noemi Leick, Wade Braunecker, Rachel Mow, Nicholas Strange, Steven Christensen, Thomas Gennett

Research output: NRELPresentation


The transportation demands in our growing hydrogen (H2) economy requires robust storage systems. The current commercially implemented technology in fuel cell cars relies on the well-established technology of hydrogen gas compressed to 350-700 bar, depending on the application. The compressed gas tanks in use today are bulky and cost intensive. To address this challenge, material-based storage is one of the long-term alternatives considered and constitutes the focus of this talk. Material-based storage is broadly defined as hydrogen bound to solid materials, with its binding strength varying from physisorption to porous materials, such as zeolites and metal organic frameworks, to chemisorption in (complex) metal hydrides. The ultimate targets set by the U.S. Department of Energy for this technology include a system gravimetric capacity of 6.5 wt% and volumetric capacity of 40 g/L at 100 bar, operating temperatures ranging between -40 C and +40 C and adsorption/desorption timescales of < 5 min. Storage in the form of physisorbed or chemisorbed hydrogen has guided the materials research, which metal- organic framework and (complex) metal hydrides being the most promising materials classes. A variety of these materials have met one or more of the targets, but it has remained elusive for a single material system to meet all these stringent requirements. Nano-encapsulation and low-concentration chemical additives have previously been employed separately to overcome such challenges. Functionalization via atomic layer deposition (ALD), however, offers unique characteristics that make it suitable for both, nano-encapsulation and "doping" with low-concentration additives. This deposition technique has sub-monolayer thickness control, is highly conformal in high-surface area materials and is self-limiting, i.e., once the gas-phase precursor reacts with the available surface sites, the surface reactions stop. In this presentation, we will showcase examples where ALD, more generally vapor-phase functionalization, on (complex) metal hydrides and organic frameworks has improved the material properties for H2 storage. In our first study, Al2O3 was deposited on magnesium borohydride, Mg(BH4)2, at room temperature using trimethylaluminum (TMA) and water. From our findings, encouraging initial results were obtained: the H2 desorption temperature was lowered by 60-120 degrees C, the desorbed gravimetric H2 capacity at temperatures < 250 degrees C was doubled, and the desorption kinetics increased by a factor of ~6 compared to uncoated Mg(BH4)2. However, hydrolysis reactions caused by residual surface -OH groups from the ALD water-pulse degraded the sample substantially. Through this study, the use of TMA was observed to be highly reactive with the Mg(BH4)2 surface species, leading to the strategy of exposing the sample only to TMA. The relative mole fraction of the vapor-phase additive can be precisely controlled with the number of TMA pulses and pulse duration. By tuning these parameters, we show in our second study that 10 pulses of TMA at ambient conditions were able to decrease the H2 desorption temperature by ~100 degrees C while retaining <95 % of its H2 capacity. We applied this approach with other additives such as BBr3, TiCl4 and tetrahydrofuran, and demonstrate that this unique approach opens the door to a new class of molecular additives and catalysts which cannot easily be introduced with conventional mechano-chemical or solvent-based techniques for (complex) metal-hydrides. In the case of metal organic frameworks, ALD is a promising technique to functionalize the pores with metal atoms or functional groups able to tune the gas selectivity and binding energy, for which ~15 kJ/mol has been established as the optimal value for H2 storage in sorbent materials. Vapor-phase techniques such as ALD have numerous benefits over other functionalization tools for H2 storage materials opening innumerable opportunities to the field. To exploit these opportunities, the current limitations on room temperature and water-less ALD processes needs to be overcome which will greatly expand the possibilities of encapsulation and incorporation of additives for organic frameworks and (complex) metal hydrides.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages26
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NamePresented at the 240th ECS Meeting, 10-14 October 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5900-81276


  • atomic layer deposition
  • hydrogen storage


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